Demand for presses…

In the past month or two, I think I have seen something like 20 want ads for a tabletop press. Used, near-perfect condition NS Pilots seem to sell for $1500 (USD). I imagine brand new ones could sell for twice that. This got me thinking that perhaps the time is near for someone to start making presses again.

I poked around a little to get a sense of modern manufacturing costs and came up blank. I made some very rough estimates for gray and ductile iron casting, and some estimates for the machining that would be necessary, but not anything particularly accurate. It would be interesting to me to cost out the manufacturing of a batch of parts-compatible C&P Pilot clones. The only two machine shops I have worked with aren’t set up to give estimates for this type of job, and I don’t want to waste the time of a large shop’s estimating department to satisfy my curiosity.

I know the folks who own what’s left of Adana looked at making a new batch of presses at one point, and saw it as unfeasible. Perhaps now it might be feasible to manufacture tabletops again? Perhaps someone else knows more than I?

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While an interesting concept, it seems to me that we should continue on the path of saving and reusing the presses that are already in existence. It compares a bit to sprawl if we just start manufacturing new presses. Plus, what fun is it if they’re just readily available? After all, the stories behind these presses are magnificent and such a part of the culture. These things were built to last, it’s not like the existing presses are crumbling to pieces and we’re at a complete loss for them. It just takes a bit of persistence to find them which may help weed out some people who aren’t really so serious about it in the first place. Also, wouldn’t this take away some of the allure/value of modern day letterpress? Maybe I’m overreacting? Thoughts?

Hern Iron Works is in the Briar Press yellow pages. It seems to me that they would be a logical choice of a business to ask if they would be interested in participating in such a project. (However, I do not know them and have no idea what their reaction to this would be).

My opinion is that the cost of a new press would be far greater than waiting for an old one to become available.

What interests me about manufacturing new small presses is that we could come up with a new design, just like many of the old press manufacturers did. What I don’t like about small hand lever presses is that the impression pressure is not as strong, and not as consistent, but varies with the amount of force which is applied with each impression. If a small press was designed with a flywheel and crank to apply the same impression pressure every time, results would be more like the bigger presses.

LRF….. I’m in agreement with you about manufacturing new presses. If we are to maintain letterpress printing beyond the next few years, we will need new machinery and type.

This does not take away from the romance/allure of the old machines. In fact, growth of the avocation made possible by new machines would enhance it considerably.

I have looked extensively into making new presses… and costed it out. It is NOT as difficult as it would first appear. Folks in the “Art World” are already building very high precision presses for their etchings. With very little modification…. primarily the addition of runners to the bed… these machines could be adapted to letterpress.

Most of the parts can be bought from local industrial supply houses. Using welded/ machined steel instead of cast iron, one could easily build the equivalent to a top-of-the-line Vandercook for ~$1000.

First things first. No one can give an accurate quote without schematics. That right there may be the very hardest part of this task, finding a readable set of old mechanical drawings. If one was talented and bold enough I suppose they could disassemble a press, measure every part and work of some cad files.

I would think machined aluminum for much of the press would be in order. Mild steel for those parts that see more wear and stress.

I believe that Caslon are doing the right thing by ensuring a good stream of spares to allow the continued use and restoration of existing Adanas, which are still readily obtainable on Ebay etc (I picked up a lovely condition Five-Three with all accessories on the Oxfam online store for 19.99 UK Pounds). Caslon are also actively selling great reconditioned units for about 500 UK Pounds.

It would be interesting to know the degree to which existing desktop presses are being continually re-sold on the second-hand market by newcomers who find that letterpress is not for them. If the turnover was high, would that make production of new presses a less viable proposition ?

I don’t think that re-creating old presses is necessary. My idea would be to take existing CAD drawings for Etching Presses, which are currently being sold on the Internet, and modify them to make a letterpress.

Go look at:

The plans look very complete to me…. and the quality of the resulting presses appear to be excellent. With very little modification, (such as raise the rollers to type high, add runners to the bed, and add a tympan) they would be perfect for what we do.

These are the plans I costed out….. and with modifications, it still comes to less than $1000.

Did you consider an inking assembly? I wouldn’t want to run several hundred pages using a brayer. It might be possible to attach an inking unit to the baseplate.

My thought on the Pilots was that a repro press would allow for the maintenence and parts availability to keep older ones running. I;m not sure what turnover is, but the supply can go nowhere by down. That being said, precision cylinder presses are going to turn out a better product.

The design you linked to would have to have the cylinder enlarged so that the tympan could fit around it, if you wanted to go the Vandercook direction. This means that the position of the cylinder needs to be locked to the position of the bed. The bed, therefore, needs to be geared to the drive shaft. The complexity seems to go up quickly.

Anyway, it is an interesting project. As you go forward, I will be fascinated to see how your design turns out. The ultimate tradeoff is going to be cost of press manufacture vs. the speed it will print at.

And please, post questions/progress. This is an exiting project!

Yes, I have considered an inking assembly. Vandercook produced a unit with a seperate inking carriage and an ink slab on the baseplate. It would be simple to replicate.

I have thought about fixing the relationship of the bed to the cylinder with a rack/pinion set up, and also the possibility of using a chain/sprocket type set up. I don’t like either idea. They add a lot of cost to the mechanism…. and detract from it’s simplicity. There are better solutions to the problem. Right now, i’m leaning toward just using a friction set-up, with a hard-rubber covering over the cylinder.

I’ll keep you posted.